CHILDREN’S charities are urging MSPs to “be courageous” in raising the age of criminal responsibility from the one being proposed by ministers.

The organisations want the age to be raised to 14 or 16 - in line with most other European nations - but the Scottish Government has proposed setting it at 12.

Currently the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is eight - the lowest in Europe - and in breach of the United Nations convention, which says the minimum should be 12.

In a submission to members of a Holyrood committee, which is examining the Scottish Government’s proposals, the charity Children 1st said: “We remind the committee... that 12 is the absolute minimum recommendation from the UN and that in Scotland we have the scope to be much more ambitious to realise children’ s rights in this area.

“Not all children mature at the same rate and some understand and interpret consequences and processes differently to others. “

It added: “We welcomed the recommendations previously made by the Advisory Group on Extending the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility that would enable any procedures put in place for managing harmful behaviour of children under the age of 12 to apply to older children if the minimum age of criminal responsibility were to be further raised.

“We encourage the committee to take this recommendation forward and to be courageous and consider raising the age of criminal responsibility beyond the bare minimum. We should be aiming for a justice system that focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment, where the best interests of children are the primary consideration.”

Police Scotland has backed the government’s plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12. However, in its submission it warned a higher age may be difficult to implement as more older children are involved in crime.

“Police Scotland is supportive of the Scottish Government position that the age of criminal responsibility should be set at 12 years,” it said.

“Whilst we understand the debate regarding setting the age of criminal responsibility at a higher age, we are mindful that the nature of children‟s actions and the prevalence of that behaviour changes as the age group increases to 12 and above.”

The Scottish Government published its Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill in March in a move to bring the country into line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

James Docherty, from Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit, Bruce Adamson, the Children’s Commissioner, and Maggie Mellon (pictured), a trustee of the Howard League, will be among the experts giving evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee in Holyrood on Wednesday.

The bill would mean no child under 12 will receive a criminal record. Currently children can go before a children’s hearing from the age of eight and have these judgements added to their criminal record.

The change will raise that to 12, the age at which children can be prosecuted in a court.The age of criminal responsibility - when a child is considered capable of committing a crime and old enough to stand trial and be convicted of an offence - is currently set at 10 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But in most European countries it is 14, though in a number it is higher including Sweden where it is 15 and Lithuania 16. Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands are among the few where it is 12.

According to a policy memorandum accompanying the bill “the number of criminal incidents involving children under 12 is small, reducing and and minor in nature” and which can be addressed more effectively with appropriate support. It warned responding to behaviour “in a criminalising, stigmatising manner” risked escalation and further harm.